GÖNÜL AYDEMİR - ISTANBUL
Among the myriad of things to do and see in the southeastern city of Şanlıurfa, we have 10 suggestions for local and foreign visitors alike.
1. See Balıklıgöl
Balıklıgöl (Fish Lake), known more commonly in English as "The Pool of Abraham," is one of the several attractions in Şanlıurfa. Legend has it that the pool is where Prophet Abraham was thrown into the fire by Nimrod. Based on this belief, the fire turns into the pool and the firewood into fish. Hence, Balıklıgöl and the carp fish in this pool are considered sacred. There is no entry fee, so instead, why not buy fish food and feed the fish?
2. Climb to Şanlıurfa Castle
Located on the northern slope of Damlacık Mountain to the south of the city, Şanlıurfa Castle is considered the city's balcony and the starting point of the Balıklıgöl legend. It is believed that Abraham was catapulted into the fire, now known as Balıklıgöl, from the two columns here. Although you need to climb a decent amount of steps to reach the castle, once you reach the top, you are embraced by an unmatchable view of the old city. It is the perfect backdrop for spectacular photographs. Entry is free for Museum Card-holders.
3. Eat lahmacun
Lahmacun, a delicious combination of minced meat, mixed with fresh chopped onions, garlic, parsley, peppers and tomatoes spread on a thin, crispy dough and baked in natural wood fire ovens, is also known as "Turkish pizza." Generally served with ayran, a traditional Turkish drink made by mixing yogurt and water with a pinch of salt to taste, is one of the most popular dishes believed to originate from Şanlıurfa, despite the controversy over its origin. However, be careful if you have a weak stomach, because locals like their food hot and spicy.
4. Attend a 'sıra night' event
The "sıra gecesi," or "sıra nights," is "night life entertainment" à la Şanlıurfa. Traditionally, locals – men – would gather on these nights to eat, sing and discuss community matters. Currently, sıra nights are open to the general public. Hotel Manici and Türkmen Konağı, located across the Balıklıgöl site, are two of the hotels that hold weekly sıra nights, open to both hotel guests and the general public. Some venues require reservations as they serve fixed menu meals. Prices vary depending on program.
6. See the Harran ruins
Located on the edge of the Syrian Desert, the now-deserted Harran, well-known for its distinct beehive-like mud houses, was once a major economic, religious and education capital. Mentioned in Genesis as Terh, Harran is believed to be the place where Prophet Abraham took his wife and son.
7. Have a photo taken wearing traditional clothing
There is a mini souvenir store by the fish pool in Balıklıgöl. They also have a variety of traditional overcoats and head wraps for women as well as head wraps traditionally worn by men in the southeast, which you can hire for a fee of TL 2 and have your photo taken by the pool. Photographs are taken on your own camera or smartphone. Price includes the hire of the clothing only.
8. See the Şanlıurfa Archaeology Museum
A visit to Şanlıurfa Archaeology Museum will prove to be a spectacular experience, walking through, step by step, the history of the world and humanity from start to present. The museum is quite comprehensive and large with resting points throughout. Expect to spend a couple of hours. Entry is free to Museum Card-holders.
9. Take a ferry cruise to the 'lost city,' Halfeti
Located about 112 kilometers from the Şanlıurfa city center, Halfeti, also referred to as "secret paradise" and "lost city," is one of the world's 208 cittaslows. This old place of settlement was left to sink under the Euphrates for the opening of the Birecik Dam in the year 2000, with two-thirds of the locals moving to new homes above the level of the new lake. Take one of the many hour-and-a-half ferry cruises in the Euphrates to the old sunken city, with the top part of the local mosque minaret still above the water. Ferry cruise fees may vary, but they are generally priced at TL 10 per person. Beware, food options may not be very hygienic.
10. Follow in the footsteps of Prophet Abraham
The Abraham Path, a long-distance walking trail, currently 1,078 kilometers long, connecting the sites visited by Prophet Abraham through the Middle East, is a nongovernmental organization initiative launched in the first decade of the 21st century. Beginning in Yuvacalı, a village in the north of Şanlıurfa, the path extends as far as Beersheba in Israel's Negev Desert. For those who have the time, the journey along the Abraham Path is an exceptional experience, with travelers passing through sites of Abrahamic history and varied landscapes, while encountering diverse communities from different religious and cultural backgrounds along the journey, as they will be accommodated in homestays and share meals with local families in villages.
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